By Jason CutshawJuly 3, 2018
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Alabama - Soldiers and civilians collaborate to ensure warfighters are prepared to use Army's latest satellite.
U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command Technical Center civilians are educating Soldiers on operating the Warfighter Assisting Low Earth Orbit Tracker, or WALT, antenna and Kestrel Eye Ground Station, or KEGS. The training allows Soldiers to support overhead satellite passes for the Kestrel Eye demonstration program.
"We are training the Soldiers from the start," said Dr. Matthew Hitt, SMDC Tech Center Concepts Analysis Laboratory, or CAL, general engineer. "We have been working with the Soldiers on training them for Kestrel Eye operations, both on how to run the WALT antenna and also the Kestrel Eye Ground Station to get them to the point of being able to operate an overhead pass independently. We want them to be able to collect all the data, archive it and get it out to who needs it.
"The Soldiers will have a real fundamental understanding how Kestrel Eye works, not just how to request something from the satellite. They will have a greater detail of what the satellite is, how it works and will be able to convey that information when they go back to their unit," he continued. "Should they be in a situation to use Kestrel Eye, they will have a greater understanding of what it can provide and how to go about receiving the information they need.
"The Soldiers are very enthusiastic and I have been impressed with how quickly they have gotten up to speed," Hitt added. "Any chance they have, they are observing and running passes and doing anything they can to get a handle on the system as fast as they can."
One of the SMDC civilians on the project explained the importance of training the Soldiers and how what they learn now will assist them in future operations
"Working with the Soldiers has been very beneficial because they have been using everything they have learned and use it to start training for their missions," said Molly Riebling, CAL science, mathematics and research for transformation intern. "The interaction has been easy and they are open to learning. I hope they get a better understanding of the entire mission and also are able to troubleshoot any problems they might have in the field."
Another civilian team member discussed the impact of training warfighters on how to use the WALT antenna and operate the KEGS.
"We have shown the Soldiers how to set up everything, how to operate a pass to collect information from Kestrel Eye," said Dewaynna Martin, CAL general engineer. "This is very exciting. I never expected myself to be doing things like this and actually making an impact for the command so early in my career."
The six 1st Space Battalion, 1st Space Brigade Soldiers from Colorado Springs, Colorado, arrived June 25 and are assigned to the SMDC headquarters for approximately two months. Their mission is to learn how to operate Kestrel Eye as it passes over Huntsville daily to collect diagnostics as well as upload telemetry to the satellite.
The Soldiers are Capt. Zeke Clayson, 1st Lt. Jonathan Maginot, Staff Sgt. Isaac Moore, Spc. Antoinette Townsend, Spc. David Lewis and Pvt. Jeovanny Santana.
"I am learning the complications inherent in satellite operations as well as the hard work SMDC personnel are putting in to continually improve its operation," said Clayson, Army Space Support Team deputy. "We are here for the advancement of the Kestrel Eye program as far as possible and help SMDC gather all of the information it needs in order to make decisions regarding its upcoming implementation."
Clayson added that Santana, Lewis and Townsend all learned their jobs while at SMDC's headquarters incredibly quickly.
"My team is outstanding," he said. "We are ahead of schedule with the learning curve. We have already manned overhead passes completely on our own and are moving forward ahead of plan.
"Neither of them had any satellite control experience before arriving at Huntsville a week ago," Clayson added. "But they all arrived motivated and eager to learn and, with the help of 'Chip' and the Kestrel Eye team, achieved competence ahead of schedule."
The Kestrel Eye microsatellite demonstrator weighs approximately 50kg and will provide electro-optical images at a tactically useful resolution with the ability for warfighters to task and receive data directly from the satellite. The downlinked data can then be provided for rapid situational awareness to Army brigade combat teams in theater without the need for relays in the continental United States.
By using a small satellite, the required logistical footprint in the field is reduced when compared to an unmanned aerial system.
"My mission is to operate the Kestrel Eye Ground Station which controls the ability to talk to the satellite and have the satellite talk back to us," said Lewis, satellite communication operator/maintainer. "There are a lot of challenges when actually setting up the first Kestrel Eye overhead passes in low earth orbit. I am used to geo-stationary orbits where we don't have to move the antenna so it is bit more complicated, but very doable.
"This is an outstanding team and everyone works really well together," he added. "I am absolutely glad to be here. This is a great learning opportunity for a different system, and a career-broadening experience."
Kestrel Eye was successfully deployed from the International Space Station October 24, 2017. The performance of this satellite is now undergoing investigation to validate the specifications of the satellite are met. At the conclusion of its checkout investigation, the satellite will undergo a series of exercise experiments to evaluate if similar satellites could support critical operations.
"I set up the antenna when the satellite is passing overhead and make sure everything runs smoothly," said Santana, information technology specialist. "It is important because if the satellite is not operating correctly we don't get a signal and we can't retrieve or upload information, which is vital to the operation.
"I am very excited to be here," he added. "It is a great opportunity to learn and the team is running smoothly in accomplishing our mission."